Celtics

Celtics fall behind by 18 but rally for 101-94 victory over Thunder

Celtics fall behind by 18 but rally for 101-94 victory over Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – When the Boston Celtics formed their version of a Big Three, Al Horford was viewed by most as the third member of the group.

But when Gordon Hayward went down, it required all of the Boston Celtics to step up. 

However, you would be hard-pressed to find another Celtic whose game has been elevated as much as Horford’s of late. 

But Friday night might have been his best performance to date, leading the Celtics to a come-from-behind 101-94 win. 

Horford finished with 20 points, 13 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

With the win, Boston (7-2) extends its league-best winning streak to seven in a row on a night when they trailed by as many as 18 points. 

Boston also snapped a three-game losing skid to the Thunder (4-4).

Coming into the game, the Celtics knew they were facing a Thunder team that would provide them the stiffest challenge they’ve seen thus far defensively.

Boston came in with the league’s best defensive rating while the Thunder were right behind them at No. 2. 

Indeed, Oklahoma City’s defense gave Boston major fits in the first half as they flew around to loose balls, contested shots at the rim and on the perimeter. 

No one symbolized Boston’s struggles offensively early on more than their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. 

He was just 1-for-9 shooting in the first half, with his lone basket being a 3-pointer with 2:02 to play in the second quarter. But when it mattered the most, Irving put his imprint on the game with clutch shooting and solid defense before finishing with 25 points with 22 coming in the second half. 

Irving’s struggles were surprising when you consider how well he has played against the Thunder in the past, especially when it came to 3-point shooting. 

He came into Friday’s game shooting 47.5 percent from 3-point range in his career against the Thunder, which is the best he has shot from 3-point range against any team. You would not have known that by the way the Thunder put the defensive clamps on Irving for most of the first half in limiting him to just 1-for-4 shooting from 3-point range after the first two quarters of play. 

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

BOSTON – You had to figure Golden State’s explosive offense would probably come up a little short scoring-wise against the Boston Celtics and their top-rated defense. 

But for them to score 88 points – that’s about 32 below their average – was very one of those, “where the hell did that come from?” moments. 

And it was exactly what the Celtics needed to escape with a 92-88 win that extended their winning streak to 14 in a row but maybe most important, put the entire league on notice that this streak they’re on right now … it’s real. 

“They wrote us off coming in, saying Golden State was gonna beat us, and do this and do that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We came out and played basketball. Even though we got down, the make-up of our team is staying in; we’re resilient.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s signature win of the season, 92-88 over Golden State which extended Boston’s winning streak to 14 straight. 

 

BROWN’S GROWTH

Jaylen Brown was playing with a heavy heart less than 24 hours after the death of his best friend. But as we’ve seen in this still-young season, Brown is very much one of the league’s emerging talents. He certainly played that role on Thursday in leading Boston with 22 points with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.  

 

TALE OF TWO HALVES FOR TATUM

There’s something about the second half of games against elite players that brings out the best in Jayson Tatum. When Boston opened the season at Cleveland, Tatum was noticeably better in the second half than the first. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, it was more of the same. In the first half he had just two points only to finish with a 10-point second half (7 coming in the fourth) for a 12-point game on 2-for-5 shooting. 

 

AL HORFORD

As well as he’s played, a strong case can be made for Horford being a league MVP instead of their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. Horford tallied a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with a pair of assists. Horford now has six double-doubles this season which equals his double-double total from all of last season. 

 

MARCUS SMART

As much as you know Smart makes great effort plays consistently and does indeed make a difference when he’s on the court, his shooting woes are reaching critical mass even as Boston continues to gobble up wins. In the last five games, Smart has averaged 7.6 points. That’s not too bad, right? But then you look and see that he’s shooting 19.2 percent (10-for-52) in that span. Ouch! So far, the Celtics have been able to find success despite his shooting struggles. But you have to anticipate at some point it’ll catch up with them. 

 

SHORTENED ROTATION

For most of this season, pretty much everyone who suits up for the Celtics, have played. But against the Warriors, it had the feel of a playoff-like rotation with head coach Brad Stevens playing 10 guys with nine reaching double digits in minutes played. Considering how the second unit struggled to make shots (they missed 17 of their 19 shot attempts), it’s understandable why head coach Brad Stevens leaned a little heavier than usual on his second unit.